Last updated: March 12, 2021 (4:09 PM EST)
On this page, we answer some of the frequently asked questions about the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its annual sessions. We intend these Q&As to only offer a basic introduction to the NPC for those unfamiliar with it, not a comprehensive and nuanced discussion of the relevant issues. We may update these Q&As or add additional ones from time to time and without notice. Q&As that are no longer relevant are greyed out.
Q: What is the NPC?
A: The NPC is China’s “highest organ of State power” and its national legislature. It has the authority to amend the Constitution, to fill top state offices, to enact important legislation (the constitutional term is “basic laws” [基本法律]), to approve the central government’s budget, and to ratify plans for national economic and social development. It has a few other constitutional powers, but those are rarely exercised. The NPC meets only once per year for around ten days, typically in March. Its permanent body, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), meets year round to enact legislation and conduct other business in accordance with its own constitutional and statutory authority.
Q: What is the significance of the NPC’s annual sessions?
A: Each year, the NPC hears work reports from the NPCSC, the State Council, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. It also reviews the central government’s annual budget and national economic and social development plan. Chinese authorities use these documents to announce their policy priorities and goals for the coming year, which are closely watched by observers. Since 2015, the NPC has also reviewed important legislation each year, which lends the sessions additional significance. In 2020, for instance, the NPC adopted China’s first Civil Code and a decision that led to the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law.
Q: What are the “Two Sessions” (lianghui [两会] in Chinese)?
A: China’s top political advisory body, the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, also meets annually and in parallel with the NPC. “Two Sessions” is the collective term for their annual gatherings.
Q: Is the NPC a rubber stamp?
A: Yes, because the full NPC has never voted down any item on its agenda—whether a bill, a report, a budget, a plan, or a nomination. The NPC delegates’ deliberations during a session can and do, however, result in limited changes to the documents submitted for review. Votes in the NPC tend to be non-unanimous, but in recent years there have been fewer dissenting votes. The NPCSC, by contrast, is less of a rubber stamp. Not all bills submitted to the NPCSC have been passed: a few have been shelved indefinitely, thus indirectly rejected, and one bill from 1999 (the only one to date) failed to garner a majority vote. That said, the vast majority of bills do pass, and politically salient ones tend to pass unanimously or near-unanimously.
Q: What can you tell me about the NPC delegates?
A: The current (13th) NPC started with 2,980 delegates, who hail from each mainland province, as well as from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army, and the People’s Armed Police. As of February 28, 2021, there are 2,953 NPC delegates. They come from all walks of life, although more than a third are Communist Party or government officials. Over 70% of them are Communist Party members, another roughly 13% are members of China’s eight democratic parties (all loyal to the Communist Party), and the remaining delegates do not have any political affiliation. Roughly a quarter of the delegates are women and around 15% are ethnic minorities. For more information on the 13th NPC’s demographic, please see this post.
Q: What is the Presidium [主席团]?
A: The Presidium is an ad hoc body of around 170 members selected by each NPC session. It is a powerful decision-making body. Among other functions, the Presidium determines the session’s daily schedule, decides whether to list a delegate’s bill on the agenda, hears reports on the delegates’ deliberations and decides whether to put an item to a vote, nominates candidates for top state offices, and organizes constitutional-oath ceremonies. The Presidium presides over the session’s plenary meetings and is seated at the front of the hall, facing the other delegates.
Bills, Suggestions & Procedures
Q: How does the NPC make laws?
A: The NPC’s deliberation of a legislative bill is typically the final step of a much longer process. Here, we will focus on the events that occur in the NPC. First, an NPCSC official will, on behalf of the bill’s original drafter, explain the bill to the delegates during a plenary meeting. Then the delegates will break into their delegations or smaller groups to discuss the bill. Officials from the drafting organ will attend the discussions to answer the delegates’ questions, and legislative staff members will be there to take notes. Based on the delegates’ opinions, the NPC Constitution and Law Committee (CLC) [宪法和法律委员会] will meet during the session to revise the initial draft. It will also produce a report explaining what changes have been made and why. The delegates will then discuss the revised draft, after which the CLC will revise the draft again and produce a final draft for voting. The vote typically occurs at the session’s closing meeting. After the bill passes, the President will sign an order to announce it. The text of the final version will be published shortly thereafter.
Q: What is a bill [议案] and what would happen to it?
A: A bill is a document submitted to the NPC that requests it (including the NPCSC) to perform an act within the scope of its authority. Bills are most commonly legislative—that is, they ask the legislature to enact or amend certain legislation. Several central state organs (including the NPCSC) may introduce legislative bills in the NPC—and when they do, such bills are included in the agenda and deliberated according to the procedures described above. A delegation or at least thirty delegates together may also submit bills to the NPC. The Presidium will decide whether to list any such bill on the session’s agenda. If not (as is almost always the case), it will refer the bills to the relevant NPC special committees for review. By the end of the year, the committees will report to the NPCSC on their recommended actions. For instance, the reports may recommend that a governmental entity consider the views expressed in a bill (which typically does not include proposed legislative texts) in drafting the relevant legislation.
Q: What is a “suggestion” and what would happen to it?
A: “Suggestions” is the collective term for three types of submissions by NPC delegates: “suggestions, criticisms, and opinions” [建议、批评和意见]. Unlike bills (which are directed to the legislature itself), suggestions can be addressed to a range of governmental bodies, most commonly the State Council’s agencies. Suggestions, moreover, need only be sponsored by a single delegate, not thirty. As their names indicate, suggestions are used to recommend certain official actions or policies, express the delegates’ views on certain policy issues, or criticize a particular governmental body’s performance. The bodies to which suggestions are directed are required to reply over the next few months. (Some of these replies are posted online.) By the year’s end, the NPCSC will also hear a report on how the suggestions submitted during that year’s NPC session have been handled. For additional discussion of “suggestions,” please see this issue of the Pekingnology newsletter.
Q: When is the NPC meeting in 2021?
A: The NPC met from March 5 to 11.
Q: What will happen each day at this year’s NPC session?
A: An English version of the session’s daily schedule is available here.
Q: What is on the NPC’s agenda this year and is there anything notable?
A: An English version of the agenda is available here. A few items are particularly notable:
- 14th Five-Year Plan. The NPC is reviewing China’s 14th Five-Year Plan—a blueprint for the China’s economic and social development through 2025—as well as a set of long-term goals for 2035. Full text of the Plan in Chinese is available here.
- Amendments to the NPC’s two governing laws. The NPC is deliberating amendments to the NPC Organic Law [全国人民代表大会组织法] and the NPC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会议事规则, which we have explained in detail here.
- Hong Kong electoral reform bill. The NPC is also consider a Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [关于完善香港特别行政区选举制度的决定], which have explained in detail here.
Q: Do you expect to approve these documents? If so, when?
A: Yes, we expect the NPC to do so on March 11.
Q: Will the NPC approve a bill on <fill in the issue of your choice> this year?
A: No, if it is not listed in the session’s agenda. That is to say the NPC is not expected to take any specific action on that issue, but the issue may still be addressed by other governmental bodies in their work reports or other documents submitted to the NPC for review, thus discussed by the delegates as they deliberate those documents.
Q: How can I follow this year’s NPC session?
A: Only some portions of the session’s plenary meetings (including the Premier’s delivery of the annual government work report) will be broadcast live on television and online. For the portions that are not, official websites will offer live transcripts of the proceedings. The delegates’ discussions will not be broadcast live, nor will there be transcripts available. The session will hold several press conferences, including a Q&A by the Premier after it closes. They should all be broadcast live; a few would offer English interpretations of the entire event, but most would provide interpretations of journalists’ (pre-approved) questions only. International and domestic media are expected cover the session extensively. We will also have our own coverage; follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our blogposts for updates.